BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) registered dietitians have a simple tool to help you enjoy the food and goodies this holiday season: mindfulness.
“Mindfulness applied to eating is thinking about how you eat, rather than what you eat,” said Henry Lau, coordinator for healthy eating and food security in the population and public health program at the BCCDC. “It’s okay to enjoy those special dishes at this time of year by taking your time to be present in the moment and appreciate those foods shared with family and friends.”
Mindfulness is the act of being present and being aware of your physical and emotional self without judgement. Applied to food, it means listening to and understanding what your body needs and wants, rather than being influenced by external factors. It also means focusing on your eating experience and recognizing how it makes you feel. Lau says this can be especially important during the holidays because we are surrounded by so many food choices and distractions.
To practicing mindful eating, slow down and really think about the food you are eating. Take time to appreciate how it got there, consider the flavours, textures and aromas you enjoy, and take stock of how it makes you feel.
“Food shouldn’t leave you with any negative emotions,” said Lau. “We can often feel guilty after indulging during the holidays, and we tell ourselves that we’ll fix it by starting a diet. However, if we don’t stick to it, we can feel even worse because we feel like we’ve failed and this behaviour can have a negative impact on our health, especially our mental health.”
An important component to any mindfulness practice is to be objective or non-judgmental before, during and after your eating experience. There is no right or wrong way to eat, nor is there a right or wrong reason to eat. This means, for example, if you do overeat, don’t judge yourself or your body.
“We know dieting does not work long term and can actually be harmful to your health. Once you start focusing on how you eat, you will start to realize things about your body and your relationship with food which will allow you to make positive changes to your eating habits and also have a much more enjoyable eating experience,” said Lau.
Tips for eating mindfully
- Eating mindfully means listening to and understanding your body’s cues. Check in with yourself and whether you are eating because you are physically hungry or if there are other needs you are ignoring, like being thirsty or feeling bored or lonely or tired.
- Slow down, take smaller bites, chew your food thoroughly, and put your fork down between bites.
- Be curious about the food and take your time to concentrate on why the food gives you pleasure like the smell, taste and texture. Enjoy the crisp of some chips or the aromas of your favourite holiday meal.
- Be present and enjoy the eating experience. When eating alone, put your phone down and eat without distraction. When eating with friends, take the time to connect.